Three Generation trip for U.S.M.C. Captain (Ret.)
Sunday August 10 2008 The long drive up here yesterday was tiring but we had pretty good accommodations at V.N.O. Lynn checked us in and got us setup in the “bunkhouse”, got a pretty good night's sleep. But today I think it can honestly be said that we about killed ourselves. We had a one mile portage to start off plus we had wayyy too much weight in the packs. Dad is just not as physically strong as last time we were in the BWCA together and I planned the packs as though he was. All of us over pushed it to do that portage. We got off the portage and decided there was no way we were going to make it into Cummings Lake (in Dad's current state) and since we were base camping all week anyway there was no real need to try.
I feel like I failed pretty badly on planning. I should have chosen a different Entry Point so we wouldn't have had such a monster of a portage for Dad. And since I was ASSuming he was as strong as he was in 2005 we had way too much weight in the packs. I have to seriously re-think future packing needs versus “good ideas”. I really wanted Dad to have a great “last trip”, but today was not a great start. The site we found (finally an open site) is pretty rough and quite steep. Dad fell twice just getting around. (edit: in his defense his legs had very badly cramped up in the canoe after the portage and he was unable to stretch out at all in the bow) It was the first open site we could find. Really only one usable place for a tent pad. The Kestrel has landed.
Day Two; Monday August 11 2008 Day Two Personally I had a rough night. I had been kicking myself pretty hard about yesterday's start, so that somehow was made present in my dreams. But today is a beautiful day. Chris was fishing this morning (of course) but from shore. A big loon swam in front of him not more than 20 yards away. Chris has been catching fish, small mouth mostly. I guess it's fortuitous in a way that we got this site; very steep drop-offs in this little bay so Chris doesn't have to go far to get a line in.
Later: Chris has the Kestrel out fishing. The shore on this campsite landing is broken boulders and not conducive to walking or landing canoes. Dad fell yesterday when he got on shore when he turned around to receive a pack from me while unloading the kevlar. Today I am deliberately taking it slow around the site. I am missing some photo opps – Chris is out in the Kestrel and I'm journaling.
Later: The kevlar that Dad and I are renting is pretty worn in spots. It had wear patches installed at one time at bow and stern which have completely worn through into the underlying material. Chris is still too far down the bay for a good shot of him but I'll get 'im, there's 4 1/2 days left.
Later: Chris has caught supper from shore.
A bass keeper. It's only 3:30 now so we (he) filleted the bass and put the fillets in a ziploc and put that in the coffee pot and sank that to keep the fillets cold until supper. The coffee pot is to ward off any snappers that might stroll by. Fresh bass and “Loaded Baked” (Idaho brand) potatoes,.. it doesn't get any better for a fresh meal. I have simply brought too much food. Dad is eating like a bird. He eats frequently and it's food he likes but he's at an age where he's just not eating as much. That, and when you're hot and tired you just don't feel like eating as much. But the week is young.
Later: We seem to have a system grazing us to our S.W. If it enlarges we may have a little rain late tonight or towards morning. The sky seems to be N.N.W. And the system I am seeing is off to the S.W. We will have to wait and see huh? But for now it's a mostly sunny mid 70's afternoon. Dad is in [the tent] taking a nap. We all had a rough day yesterday, even Chris is in “Grannie Gear” today. Shoot I'm sore in places I didn't even know I had!
Later: Evening is winding down. Supper was very good. Fresh bass and “Loaded Baked” potatoes. Dad and I are winding down the evening, in fact Dad just went to bed. I have secured the site for rain. I see rain curtains off to the west.
Tuesday August 12 2008 Day Three The rain held off until this morning. It's a light rain for now. Chris went out fishing before it started raining so I hope he comes in before too long. We had just a little hole in the cloud cover at 6-6:30am and had a wonderful beam of sunrise for a bit. Rain is getting a little more insistent. I wish Chris would come in if just for his rain jacket. Other than that, it's a fine morning, not as cold as yesterday morning but still cool.
Later: We had a later breakfast. Chris came in with supper again, a 15” bass.
We put the fillets in the ziploc and coffee pot again to keep cool for supper. We're thinking of a full meal today for lunch and then the bass for supper with the side dish of summer squash and onions and mushrooms (dehydrated) sauteed in butter. A nice light meal – not too heavy before bedtime.
The return portage is hanging out there in all our minds. We have to be at the pickup at 9am and the portage took us almost 3 hours [although a lot of that was scratching our heads]. We will have to pack everything thursday night and leave only the tent unpacked. We are figuring we will have to be at our end of the portage at 6am which is not a problem. But we don't have usable light here until 5:15 here. We are mulling tactics and choreographing our exodus.
Later: The gentle rain has past and it's getting lighter. It got a little windy but not too bad. These rain jackets are worth their weight in gold – they're about bombproof. The rain has brought out the mosquitoes (of course). Not too bad though just annoying enough more than anything else. We had the creamy chicken and rice for lunch. Man it was good but it was huge portions. Note for future batches – I can half the rice portions – these are huge portions. Next time I have to experiment more with these freezer bag recipes. Chris got away with a whole dinner almost. We had to throw out a very very little of the dinner but we are throwing out faaarrr less than we did with the freeze dried sludge we got from an outfitter in 2005.. I have set the veggies to soak for supper. When people are hungry we will eat.
Later: Supper was very good. The fish was perfect and the veggies on the side were awesome. We wound things down a little after supper. Chris and I sat around and enjoyed each other's company. A rather large snapping turtle made it known that we were on his shoreline. He would come up and exhale for a full 10 seconds and then inhale just as long. Chris and I just looked at each other in wonder. And that is as it should be.
Wednesday August 13 2008 Chris' Birthday Party. Day Four Slept in til 7am this morning. I rarely do that anymore! Still misty then an insistent rain. Coffee was the first order of business for the day, then I cooked up some eggs. The dehydrated (not cooked!) eggs from Eggstore.com turned out to be a real boon; just add some real bacon bits and it's a great trail breakfast. The mixing bowl needs to be rinsed or sloshed to avoid having the dribbles dry hard.
During a rainy breakfast we had some “Man-Talk” with Chris. This was not the locker room neanderthal grunting and scratching common with most recognitions of manhood. This was two Christian men as the heads of two Christian households speaking into a young Christian man's life about what it meant to be a man of God and a Christian husband of integrity. Mom and Dad have been married for over 55 years and Theresa and I have been newlyweds for 26 years. So we're qualified. For years Chris has been showing remarkable maturity beyond his years. So I thought sometime during this trip Dad and I could initiate this. I asked Dad weeks ago if he'd be interested in something like that and he was all for it. And since it was a beautiful wet summer (warm) rain we sat around after Chris opened birthday presents and spoke of these things. A great deal of it Chris has been hearing from me for quite some time but it is nice to hear it reinforced from another man of God whom Chris respects a great deal. [on our way home from Ely I asked Chris what most favorably impressed his memory of the week. Without even half a second of hesitation he said ' “The Talk” with you and Grandpa'].
Later: 4pm The rain finally got tired and went home. Chris and I went out for a paddle and he snagged a submerged tree branch while trolling.
But we did see a bald eagle right before that. We wanted to go see the campsite that we couldn't get on Sunday, but it was still occupied. So we couldn't get out and walk around on it. On the way back we saw a HUGE otter. He was diving into the lake before I could snap a shot of him.
Later: 5:35pm Chris just paddled up in The Kestrel and said he'd caught the largest smallmouth of his life. 20” long. Sheesh what a day this guy has had.
Later: 7:50pm Supper tonight was the Sesame Orange Chicken (foil pouch chicken) which was met with thunderous applause. Chris is shore fishing again (of course). The day is winding down. The rain system was kind, we didn't have heavy wind at all and no lighting. Dad and I have pretty much recovered from the “Monster Portage”. The portage itself is just a mile hike in the woods and quite pretty, but our bags just had too much crap. Dad is just not as physically strong as he was in 2005. He took the lightest pack and Chris and I double portaged and double packed and carried the canoes.
Later; Chris just landed a 24” FAT northern from shore. He caught it on a floating “perch” Rapala 2 3/4”. We really had our hands full trying to get that pike off the hook, untangled from the net and back into the water. He's okay. He swam off under his own power. There was no time for a shot. He was expiring too fast and we weren't going to eat him. He swam off to tell Mr Snapper on us.
Thursday August 14 2008 Day Five
What a beautiful morning. Cool and clear.
We had a loon land (or take off) in our little bay this morning while we were still in the tent and it was so quiet of a morning that it sounded like a B52 had done a belly flop landing. Dad got a chance to do some fishing this morning. I tried real hard to get some shots of him.
He caught a rock on the first cast – not bad. Light breakfast this morning by choice. We did breakfast bars and gorp and a couple cups of coffee. I think I got some good morning shots of the bay – we'll have to see how they turn out. I also got some good shots of Chris striking off in the Kestrel.
Later 3:30 We are packing for the “Bolt-n-Run” Olympic event tomorrow. Tonight we are striking camp and packing all bags. Only the tent is to be unpacked tonight.
The tarp and bear bag are coming down tonight as well. It looks as though there has been no bear activity here for quite some time. Some of the previous inhabitants of this site were slugs. They left half buried fish remains in about 4 or 5 places. They “cleaned out” the fire grate and just dumped it to the side of the privy trail. All of it undisturbed so I am not that paranoid about leaving the food bag out under the canoes for the last night. So tomorrow morning we get up at 4:45am – strike the tent by flashlight and final pack a couple bags and bolt out of here by 5:30am. It takes 30 minutes to get from here to the portage. Then the portage itself took us almost 3 hours last Sunday so if our pickup is at 9am at EP#4 we have to be walking at 6am. We'll shower at VNO, do some quick shopping, grab a quick lunch in Ely and head for Duluth and Manitowoc WI. We'll have a light supper again tonight – the creamy chicken and rice has been nominated and seconded.
Friday August 15 2008 Day Six – Out I got up during the night to take care of “49-year-old-man-stuff”. The moon was so bright I didn't bother to take a flashlight. Amazing how the other nights this week were so dark when it was so bright this morning (2am). We got up and struck camp and by 5:45 we were on the water. We had some patchy dense fog so I was glad I went out the previous day to get some dead reckoning compass bearings to and from a couple landmarks. It probably saved our bacon. And yet one of the nicest shots of the week was on our paddle out and my camera was buried. We passed the small island in Crab Lake between the island and the campsite on the point directly East of it. The fog was dense beyond the island to the West but you could still see the morning sunrise grazing the tops of the trees on the Western shore of the lake. So my memory's snapshot shows golden red tree-tops on the far Western shore floating on a bed of fog as a backdrop for a rocky sunrise lit island on a lake as calm as glass. Talk about a parting shot. Once we got to the portage we divided and conquered the packs and did a leap-frog portage in about 2.5 hours. We were done 15 minutes early for our pickup. Burntside is a big lake. I'm glad we took the advice and paid for the tow.
We chatted quick with John at VNO, loaded up our van and took showers. Did some quick shopping in VNO and went and had a killer 3 egg omelet down the road. Did some final shopping in town for our respective spouses and took off down the road.
All totaled it was a good week. For a “last trip” for dad's sake he wished he was stronger for the portages. But I thought he did fantastic. We had some awesome father/son Grandfather/Grandson chats with no apprehension or reservations of what was said or how it would be received. That takes a lot of pressure off a three generation conversation. Chris and I are already making plans for next time and I'm making plans to build the tandem tripper canoe for me and my childbride Theresa to go sometime on our own. I have been looking forward to that for years.
Epilog and closing thoughts Things that worked and things that belly flopped;
The Katadyn Base Camp Gravity Filter hands down was the hero this week.
We had good running water all week and never had even a drip of trouble with it. But then Crab Lake is fairly clear on tannin. My dad can get dehydrated on a trip and having and seeing all the filtered water available at a moments notice was surprisingly reassuring for my dad. Other trips he was previously on (with another group) this was evidently a problem.
My Dad's Jet Boil really did the job for heating water up fast. But it's sparker ignition gave up the ghost long before this trip.
The freezer bag cooking was a huge success for this trip. BUT I will re-think doing the 7oz. foil packed chicken in the future. Just more weight. For six days I can put up with dehydrated burger and sausage and jerky.
I think I like the McKenzie maps. It showed Chris where drop-offs were and the topos seemed a little more accurate (like how would I be able to tell huh?).
My internal frame backpack from college days is still king of the hill. That poor thing put up with about 65 pounds for the return portage.
We had issues with Chris' 38 Special (the Kestrel). I think we just weren't loading it properly. But zero rocker in an open lake canoe has a different paddling style and technique than a river canoe with moderate rocker. (Builder's edit; the seat in the Kestrel was not placed correctly and the back of the canoe tended to weathercock in a crosswind. Most likely this contributed to the issues)
I am not a purist and I know some of you are – but I am not that fond of Duluth packs for hiking and portaging. There is no waist belt to share the load and the pack straps cut into your shoulders. Plus you have to throw in a vinyl liner to canoe-proof them. For the same amount of money I have a SealLine ProPack which is water tight and handles portages just fine.
The mosquitoes were not that bad. I think I killed a grand total of 3 deer flies for the week and that was at the Burntside end of the portage.
There were good memories made on this trip. But being able to get Dad up to the BW for a “last trip” was bitter sweet. I think he would probably go again but he is deeply concerned about my mother who is getting very frail. He does not like to leave her for extended periods like this. He loves her very much and they are like a couple of kids together even after being married over 55 years.
By far the most memorable day I think for all three of us was Chris' rainy day birthday party when we had our Grandfather/Father/Son chat about being a man of God and a husband of integrity. If that “God-talk” is offensive to some of you then I guess that's the way it's going to be.
I think the folks at VNO did a great job helping my Dad with his "last trip".
Capt James E. Eastman U.S.M.C. Retired – Veteran of foreign Wars Korea.